I have weird dreams. All the time. They are vivid, full of detail, and usually make no sense to anyone but myself. Like the one I had many years ago where I was hired by the government to assassinate Sean Connery with a crossbow. Okay, maybe that one doesn't make sense to anyone including me, but you see my point. The subconscious mind plays all sorts of trick on you when you're off in lala land, filling your dreamworld with images, symbolism, and random celebrities night after night. A lot of times I wake up in the morning with those images burned into my mind, almost like real memories of real events, but a few minutes later as I start to adjust to the real world again, the memories fade like a Polaroid picture in reverse. But every once in a while a dream will stick past breakfast and I can't shake it loose. Not only is the imagery strong enough to survive the waking day, but the symbolism contained in it is so precise I know exactly what it means. Wednesday night I had one of those dreams. It absolutely spoke to my current state of affairs, and, in a weird way, gave me some clarity that I have been missing in my life lately.
I've been reluctant to talk out loud about all the things going on with the D-word, mostly because I've been trying to pretend that it doesn't bother me as much as it does. Truth be told, though, divorce sucks. It really, really sucks. The process has been a lot harder than I have been willing to admit, and it's only recently that I have been able to start confronting all those feelings. In the past, whenever I have been faced with major upheaval in my life, I tend to fall into the same pattern. I choose to ignore the past, pretend that it doesn't exist, and move forward as quickly as possible. This behavior can be traced back to very early in my life when I moved around so much. Whenever my Dad would get assigned to a new Air Force Base, we were uprooted from where we lived and had to move thousands of miles away. And, since this was in the days before Facebook, email, and Skype, I had to literally cut all ties with my friends, never to see them again. As a kid going through this process every 3 years or so, it hurt. A lot. And the older I got, the deeper the bonds I formed with my friends, and the more intense the loss became when I had to break them. So whenever I was faced with yet another separation in my life, I tried my damnedest to move on as quick as I could, in the hopes that the pain and sadness wouldn't follow me into my "new" life. It's a pattern I have repeated many times over, through many moves, romances, and other life changes. But every time I did this, I wasn't pushing the pain away, I was just pushing it deeper and deeper into myself. I would store it up, not deal with it, and just add to it. Eventually, after a serious break-up right out of college, I wound up seriously depressed and saw a therapist for a little while to help deal with all the things up to that point I had been refusing to deal with. And even though I discovered why I been doing the things I had been doing, I never really learned how to change my behavior. I got better at dealing with some things, but eventually I started dealing with major changes in my life the same way I always did: run away, hide the pain, and not talk about it. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The end of a relationship is always a traumatic and harsh experience. There's a myriad of emotions and feelings that wash over you: fear, sadness, regret, anger, despair; take your pick. Getting divorced is certainly no exception. If anything, it only makes it worse because not only is the relationship ending, there is paperwork to file with the courts, waiting periods to suffer through, and a host of other legal mumbo-jumbo that serves to prolong the process of splitting up. It's not the clean break it might have been if we were just a couple, unencumbered by our official legal status as husband and wife. Jen and I probably entered the realm of divorce a bit naive about what a toll it would take on each other. I remember the day we got our divorce papers signed at the notary. We took a picture of it, laughed about it, and posted it on Facebook for the entire world to see. It seemed like a funny way of dealing with it at the time, but looking back there was absolutely nothing funny about it. True, our decision to get divorced was far more amicable than some, but that shouldn't have turned it into a comedy. But, that's the way we dealt with it, and I think it lead to a false sense of security in the days and weeks that followed. In the beginning we vowed to stay friends, promised to talk every day, and do as much as we could to prevent the anger and hurt so many other couples go through when they get divorced. In other words, we tried to pretend that nothing was going to change, when in reality everything was about to.
The weeks following our decision have been a roller coaster of emotion and we have both dealt with the loss of our marriage in different ways. Neither of us has a guidebook to follow to navigate the uncharted waters we are both adrift on. It was and continues to be a sea of uncertainty that will hopefully lead to safer shores somewhere on the horizon. In the beginning, I tried to carry on like nothing was wrong and, like I always have in the past, move forward as quickly as possible. I tried to convince myself that the only way to get over the loss would be to ignore it and pretend like it wasn't happening, but I realize now that's the worst way to deal with it. The loss of a relationship is like any other loss, and when those losses happen you have to mourn the loss before you can move forward. The death of our marriage is exactly that: a death. There has to be a period of grieving in order to move through the darkness and back into the light. It has taken me some time to see that, but I've never really dealt with losses like that before, so there has been a bit of a learning curve for me to get up to speed.
Jen gave me a book that has helped her deal with a lot of what she's been going through, and after reading it this week I have to admit it has changed my outlook on a lot of things. It is called Moving On by Russell Friedman and John W. James. Basically it outlines that we are taught from birth to ignore negative emotions and reward positive ones. For example, as a child you might come home one day and tell your parents that kids at school have been picking on you. The natural reaction for most parents is to tell you, "Don't let it bother you. Here, have a cookie it will make you feel better." We are taught to suppress the hurt and replace it with something else. As a result, we tend to believe that bad feelings are something to hide and that we have to find solace in something else. In actuality, what we should do is confront how we feel head on, experience the emotions, process them, and only then can we move forward. I'm not one to follow a lot of self-help stuff, but this book really spoke to me about not only my relationship with Jen, but virtually every other broken relationship I've ever been in. If we don't deal with the hurt and the loss, we carry that excess baggage with us into our next relationships, and then we get surprised when they don't work out either. The authors of the book say there are 6 Myths that we are taught when it comes to dealing with painful emotions:
Don't feel bad.
Replace the loss.
Time heals all wounds.
The book then goes on to explain why each of these 6 Myths do nothing but harm in our lives, then gives advice on how to overcome these fallacies and deal with negative feelings in a positive way. It was a very powerful book and I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever gone through a break-up. It has given me a lot of new insight on how to deal with the end of my marriage and how to move forward without ignoring the past and sabotaging my future.
So that (finally) leads me back to the dream I had Wednesday night. In the dream I was moving out of the house Jen and I shared (something that I will be doing in the real world in the next month or so). I had enlisted the help of some old college friends to come over and help me box my stuff and carry it out to the moving van. For some reason I decided to check my cell phone and discovered a new email. It had been sent from an artist who had apparently taken some photographs of Jen and I and turned them into mosaics. Attached to the email were pictures of these mosaics, made up of shattered shards of glass, broken bottles, and all manner of found objects. Each one was a snapshot from our relationship, pictures that I recognized from the real world. The mosaics were beautiful, but in the dream I began to cry. I looked at each one and felt sadness at the end of our relationship. I read the email and it said that these mosaics were meant to be a wedding present, but it had taken the artist so long to complete them that they were unable to send them to me until now. I just kept looking at the mosaics over and over again, conflicted by the beauty and sadness contained in each one.
I woke up Thursday morning with that dream firmly planted in my head, and I immediately began writing it down. I didn't know exactly what it meant at first, but it was such a powerful dream that I felt I had to preserve it somehow. Then as I was writing, I was reminded of a song by Wang Chung, one of my favorite 80s groups. Ironically, my favorite album by them is called Mosaic and is one of those rare albums I can listen to without skipping any of the songs. I first owned it on cassette back in the late 80s and would listen to it over and over again, then again on CD in the 90s, and now on my iPod. It is always in rotation and I know pretty much every word to every song on it. The last song on the album is called The World in Which We Live and is sort of an epic finale about how life on earth is made up of so many different people and it is our differences that make this planet such a crazy, wonderful, confusing place to live. I started singing the following lyrics, which is where the title of the album comes from:
The world is a mosaic upon a golden floor
Moving silently, darkly through space.
And our lives are the fragments of all that's gone before
Broken jewels frozen in place.
Pretty deep stuff from the guys who are best known for telling everybody to have fun tonight. But, then again, I've always felt Wang Chung is highly underrated. In any event, I spent all day thinking about what it all means. I started thinking about mosaics in general, and how when you look at them up close, they are just broken fragments, often with very sharp edges, that don't look like much. And many times if you run your fingers across them, you can cut yourself. But if you take a step back and look at it from a distance, you see the beauty contained in them. The entire picture comes into view. I think that perfectly sums up my life at this moment. If you get too close and focus in on certain details in your life, they can be painful and don't look and feel like anything but broken glass. But if you give yourself some perspective, you can see that your life does make a pretty picture when taken as a whole. Yes, my marriage has ended and it sucks right now, and at times it feels like I'm just running my bloody fingers across the sharp fragments of my life. But if you take it all in and not get lost in the details, life is beautiful. It's hard to see it right now, but I just have to keep adding pieces to the mosaic of my life and not forget to take a look at the whole thing. Sure, there is pain and sadness and loss, but that just makes for a more interesting and, ultimately, a better life. It's difficult to believe it sometimes when you're so close to it, but it's all part of the bigger picture. And like the mosaics in my dreams, the pictures we make with our lives can be beautiful.